Category: Games

The Water Here Tastes Funny

As I near the close of my first week living in north Phoenix, I have made a few observations. The first is that the water here tastes funny.

Now, I must first note that I suspect Phoenix tap water is probably among the worst in the nation. Big, polluted city in the middle of the desert with water being piped in from Colorado and California with questionable clean water regulations. I'd probably be more comfortable drinking tap water in NYC (and I think I did at the drinking fountain in the Times Square Toys R Us), or pretty much any other major American city except LA.

As you might guess from the above presumably silly and useless "rant", I filter my water. But it still tastes funny. I expect I'll get used to it soon.

The other thing I've realized is that I hate going to Fry's. I hate driving there, I hate driving back, and I especially hate shopping there. In fact I think the only satisfying part of the whole experience is walking out the front door with my bag of purchases and taking it to my car.

What was particularly unpleasant about last night's trip to Fry's -- aside from the atrocious drivers I had to fight to get there and back -- was simply trying to find things. I recently got me an HDTV, and I'm trying to set it up with HD connections for my cable and my Mac Mini. My cable box has a DVI port rather than HDMI, so I picked up a DVI-to-HDMI adapter. Of course this only transfers video and not audio, so I needed to hook audio up separately. And apparently the HDMI connections on my TV only have digital coax inputs for separate audio.

There's a Radio Shack nextdoor to my apartment complex, so of course I poked my head in there on the off chance that they'd have a digital coax audio cable for under $30. No such luck, of course. Fucking Monster.

So I went to Fry's. Where they also primarily stock Monster, but at least seem to have a better selection than their Tempe counterpart. Not that I could tell at first, because I couldn't find the audio cable aisle, which is inexplicably in the section with a giant sign that says "VIDEO" above it, rather than the section with the "AUDIO" sign. It took me probably 10 or 15 minutes to determine this, as there were no available employees anywhere to be found and I wouldn't talk to them if there were. (I learned at the Tempe location only to speak with employees as an absolute last resort; it's possible that this location actually hires competent people but I'm not going to bet on it.)

Once I finally found the aisle with the audio cables, I was faced with the even greater difficulty of actually locating the cables I wanted. This was hard enough to do by sight, as composite video, composite audio, component video, and digital audio are only distinguished by the number of connectors, and sometimes not even that. (Color doesn't immediately help anymore, as apparently coloring the entire connector has gone out of style in favor of coloring each and every connector exactly the same but with a thin band of red, white, or whatever for color-coding. And if I'm looking closely enough to see what color the thin band is, I'm looking closely enough just to read the damn label on the packaging.) It took me a close inventory of the entire first wall to find a digital coax audio cable, and it was labeled as a subwoofer cable. I didn't know what the difference is between regular digital audio and subwoofer audio, if there even is one, and that upset me -- I'm not used to being in over my head when it comes to tech, and when I am, I can usually just punch up Google to find an answer. I was not thrilled at the prospect of buying the wrong cable and having to return it later -- Fry's is awesome for returning things, but I still don't like driving there and back.

Fortunately, I finally discovered some that were just labeled "digital audio coaxial cable" at the opposite corner of the aisle. The Monster ones were, obviously, too expensive, but there were some adequate-looking GE cables that were priced very reasonably (6' for $8, 15' for $15). The trouble was that all but one of them had been knocked off their hooks and were lying on the bottom shelf below the hooks at ground level. I almost didn't see them. I'm chalking this up to incompetence rather than malice, but it sure seems convenient that the inexpensive cables were so hard to find compared to the Monsters.

I picked up a copy of Sonic Gems while I was there because it was only $20 for a bunch of games that were released 10-15 years ago and should've been included on Sonic Mega Collection in the first place. It made me feel better about the whole nasty shopping experience, but the way I described it in the previous sentence makes it sound like it shouldn't. Oh well. I never actually had a Sega CD, so the only copy of Sonic CD I ever had was the awful Win95 port (featuring intro and ending movies that look like crap in 256 color but the game refuses to run at any higher color depth, and won't run on XP!), so it's nice to finally have a good working copy. And Sonic the Fighters won't run on MAME so it's nice to finally be able to play it. (I don't know if the game's actually any good, as again, I've never played it, but at least I finally get to check it out.)

Anyway. I'm almost done building furniture and unpacking stuff, so I should be able to turn my attention to getting all my various media devices hooked up any time now, and hopefully figure out how to get my wireless network card working under Gentoo so I don't have to stretch a network cable across the whole apartment.

That and getting used to the funny-tasting water will mean I'm finally home here.

But I still don't know if there's a difference between a digital coax woofer cable and a regular digital coax audio cable, and a quick Google search hasn't helped yet. If you know please feel free to enlighten me.

Why I Hate Richard Bannister

Break time at work; figure I may as well work on the ol' blog and some of the backlog of entries I've been meaning to write.

As previously chronicled, I picked up a Mac Mini for cheap at my old job and have been setting it up as an emulation box.

The first thing that struck me about Mac emulation is the prevalence of nagware and crippleware in the Mac software scene.

I mean, as a Linux boy I don't see a hell of a lot of shareware in the first place, but it seems to me that obnoxious, crippled software is much more common on Macs than even under Windows. Perhaps it's a simple Apple culture thing -- after all, the damn OS comes bundled with a nagware, crippleware version of Quicktime.

And in the Apple emulation community, one name keeps appearing, one name synonymous with obnoxious Mac emulators: Richard Bannister.

Bannister has a near-monopoly on the Mac emulation scene. Via zophar.net's Mac section, he has 2 out of the 3 Atari 800/5200 emulators, 2 of the 4 NES emulators, 1 of the 2 GBA emulators, both Genesis emulators, and the only SMS/GameGear, Game Boy (original/Color), TurboGrafx, NeoGeo Pocket, WonderSwan, Virtual Boy, Odyssey, and ColecoVision emulators listed for OSX to his name, and this isn't even a complete list of his catalog (which also includes an SNES emulator which you need a G5 to run for Christ only knows what reason).

How is he so prolific? Well, for starters, all these different emulators have a common library for support of such basic functionality as fullscreen and gamepad support, as well as video and sound filters and, if you're lucky, netplay.

The fun part is that this library is nagware and requires $25 to register.

Twenty-five dollars.

Bannister defends this price with the absurd rationalization that video games usually cost around $50. Of course, those of us whose ability to come up with analogies is not completely broken have probably noticed that if they're NES or Genesis games they goddamnwell don't. (Maybe Bubble Bobble and Dragon Warrior 4.) He also points out that "basic functionality" is a subjective term, though the mere fact that it's in his FAQ sort of indicates a significant number of people consider it to include fullscreen and gamepad support.

He also planned, at one point, to copy-protect the library using stealth spyware; the fact that he never got around to implementing this measure doesn't make up for the fact that he is totally unapologetic about it. (Well, all right, he apologizes for the confusion, and says that in the future he'll consider the possibility that maybe his users don't want to be spied on and treated like criminals. But he still stops short of a real apology.)

In the same thread, Bannister revives his "gamepads and fullscreen aren't basic functionality" argument, and when a poster suggests that a reasonable rubric for basic functionality is anything enabled in the console itself, Bannister shoots back that then his Game Boy emulators should only display in a tiny space. Which I suppose might make some sort of vague sense if not for the existence of the Game Boy Player.

Bannister's defenders deride his critics as "a few malcontents [who] demand everything for free". Now, why would people expect free emulators? Because on every single other OS, that's exactly what we get. Windows hasn't had a prominent shareware emulator since Bleem, and no prominent shareware emulator for a legacy console since iNES, which, if you'll recall, got its ass handed to it by the superior-in-every-way-and-also-free Nesticle, which many people consider the gold standard in emulation even today. And try releasing a shareware emulator for Linux or one of the non-Mac BSD's -- you'll be laughed out of town. Bannister is holding the Mac emulation scene for ransom -- something he would never get away with on any other OS.

Which brings us to the other reason he's so prolific: the vast majority of these projects aren't originally his. They're GPL'ed. For those who don't know, the GPL is a free/open-source license which requires any derivative works of code covered under it to themselves be released under it. But Bannister doesn't release his code under the GPL; instead, he gets permission from the copyright holders to release it under his own closed license. As he is quick to point out, since he's getting a specific exemption from the copyright holders and circumventing the GPL, this is not a violation of the license and is perfectly legal -- it's just unethical and generally slimy. Again, try pulling that in the Linux world and see how far it gets you. The only reason he gets away with it in the Mac community is that he's the only game in town. He's building his work on source which other people have released for free, but heaven forfend he himself do the same. I'm sorry, what was that about malcontents who demand everything for free? If Bannister's not going to pay his dues for reaping the benefits of GPL'ed code, he should quit whining about people who don't compensate him for his work.

I haven't tried to talk to Bannister. I haven't discussed any of this with him. Why bother? I've seen his forum posts. I know how he'd respond. Poor logic, absurd analogies, and a self-righteous sense of entitlement -- coincidentally all the same things he accuses his detractors of. I can't change his mind. But I can choose not to download any emulator with his name on it, let alone give him $25 for the privilege of playing Sonic and Knuckles. I already paid for that game.

Vote for My Mod

The contest is closed, and my mod, A Hero's Death, is now available for download and voting in the NWN vault.

If you have NWN and the expansions, please download it and give it a play. With any luck, you'll love it and give it a glowing evaluation.

But play fair -- don't vote until and unless you've played it.

Please feel free to leave feedback on either of the following threads:

(I'm going to copy this entry to the top of the page and leave it there until the contest ends, but at the moment I'm at lunch and for some reason b2evo thinks I don't have write privileges for my PHP files. I'd complain about the amount of irritation involved in switching to blogging software, but of course if I were still doing this by hand it would be 3.5 cubic bitches for me to update away from home in the first place.)

The Mod Squad

The Mod Squad

I've finished my entry for the BioWare writing contest. If you have a copy of Neverwinter Nights, I'd appreciate it if you'd download my mod, A Hero's Death (might need to a do a right-click, Save As, as neither Firefox nor Konqueror seems to recognize it as a binary file), and give some feedback in the appropriate Pyoko thread (warning: spoilers). The contest deadline isn't until tomorrow, so if you notice any bugs I could squash at the last minute, please let me know.

(Corresponding update to Features page.)

My Best Idea Ever

I've been thinking a lot about this MAME business.

Specifically, I've been thinking about how some games are qualitatively different when you don't have to worry about quarters.

Oh, sure, most of the classics (Pac-Man, Asteroids, Donkey Kong) knock you back to the beginning of the game when you run out of lives. And most fighting games knock you back to the beginning of the match. But beat-'em-ups, shooters, and generally any coop multiplayer game relies on coins for its basic challenge -- even the worst player can brute-force his way through Ninja Turtles with unlimited quarters.

So I've been wondering how to keep that original challenge factor when I finally get my Mac Mini up to snuff and can fire up MAME with the guys.

And today, I stumbled on a solution:

Instead of using quarters, take drinks.

Make it a drinking game. Every time you have to hit the Insert Coin button, take a drink.

Feel free to use that one.

(Happy birthday Mom!)

Looking for some good wireless, Mac-compatible controllers.

I've managed to get a good range of emulators up and running, most notably MAME.

(Tangent: the wonderful thing about Bittorrent is that it's made so many things so much easier to find and download online. The bad thing is that they're now much harder to find individually; I was looking for a copy of Altered Beast and wound up downloading an entire 13GB torrent of every single MAME ROM. Fortunately, the download went screamin' fast and only took about a day; unfortunately, 2/3 of it is redundant -- generally speaking, every game comes in US, Japanese, and World versions, and many have multiple revisions -- and quite a few won't run at all. I guess there are tools which will only download specified files from a torrent rather than the whole thing; if anyone can recommend a good one for Mac, please drop me a line.)

And now we come to controllers. I've been using my good ol' PS2/USB adapter for years and it has served me well; however, I now have an abundance of 4-player games I can play through Sixtyforce and MAME. So that means I need more controllers.

I've already picked up a Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2, and it's proven thus far to be a fantastic damn controller. I'm currently scanning eBay for one of the original Cordless Rumblepads with the six face buttons, which I'd like for Genesis emulation and Street Fighter. (I'd also like someone besides Richard Bannister to release a Genesis emulator for Mac, as I hate him. But that's a Stream for another day.)

So that leaves one more controller I need to get. (Two, if I decide to go completely wireless, which I would like to do eventually -- a TV, a DVR, 4 game consoles -- I've got my GameCube, Dreamcast, NES, and PS2 currently connected --, and 3 computers make for a godawful jungle of wires that I would really, really like to thin out. Four if I go completely nuts and want to do a full 6-player game of the original X-Men arcade game -- vastly overkill in the vast majority of situations, but there were definitely times in college when there were four people playing a game and at least two waiting to play winner.) And I'm looking for suggestions. For all this MAME stuff, I think it'd be cool to get an arcade-style joystick: something wireless and in the $30 range; those $100 X-Arcade affairs are gorgeous but just a little bit too much for me, plus, jungle of wires.

It would appear that Pelican has a wireless arcade-style joystick out for around $30, but I can't find any reviews anywhere for it and I'm not about to buy one until I do. Pelican seems like a decent enough company, though; I spent today playing Dragon Quest 8 with one of their wireless controllers and it seems pretty solid, though a bit mushy in places -- I frequently find myself hitting Up or Down on the D-pad when I mean to hit Right. (Aside: I did not buy this controller and have no idea where it came from; it just showed up at my grandparents' house one day. My pet theory is that, like all the dishes, pots and pans, and silverware I owned in college, somebody left it at one of their rental houses when moving out.)

Anyhow, if you know of a good wireless arcade controller, or any kind of good wireless controller, have some general thoughts on Mac emulation, or just want to talk about how much you hate Richard Bannister, E-Mail me.